Should we look at the Kaaba or at the place where we prostrate while performing a prayer in Masjid al-Haram?

The Details of the Question
Should we look at the Kaaba or at the place where we prostrate while performing a prayer in Masjid al-Haram?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

It is regarded worshipping to look at the Kaaba. Therefore, it is necessary to lookat the place where we prostrate while performing a prayer in other mosques or places but it is more virtuous to look at the Kaaba while performing a prayer in Masjid al-Haram.

Turning toward the qiblah is one of the conditions of performing a prayer whether it is a fard prayer or a nafilah one. The prayer becomes invalid if it is not fulfilled except for some obligatory and permissible states.

According to all four madhhabs, it is necessary for a person who is performing a prayer in Masjid al-Haram to turn his face and direction to the building of the Kaaba.

It is enough for those who are away from the Kaaba to turn to the direction where the Kaaba is, not to the Kaaba itself. Fiqh scholars do not regard small lapses as deviation from the Kaaba and, in general, deviations up to forty-five degrees to the right and left from the point where the Kaaba is are regarded as acceptable. Besides, the place of the Kaaba is the essential qiblah; therefore, the directions down and up the Kaaba are also regarded as the qiblah. (see DİA İslam Ansiklopedisi, Kâbe, Kıble item)

According to the Islamic faith, Allah is free from place but the imagination of direction in some deeds of worshipping especially in the ones that some symbolic bodily movements are in question fulfilling them by turning to a certain direction is regarded necessary in terms of both the discipline of the worshipping and the integration of the person with a spiritual center.   

This state is an important means of integrating with Allah, who is absolute and transcendent, in the inner world and spiritual plan, for man; the manifestation of this integration and oneness in the outer world and social field is very important in terms of being the means of representation of the people (ummah) that turn to the same spiritual center.

The Prophet (pbuh) said,

"When one of you turns toward the qiblah, he turns toward Allah."(Musnad, III/24; Abu Dawud, Salah, 22) and,

"Whoever prays like us and faces our Qibla and eats our slaughtered animals is a Muslim and is under Allah's and His Apostle's protection. So do not betray Allah by betraying those who are in His protection."(Bukhari, Salah, 28)

The first one of hadiths above shows the inner and spiritual function and importance of the qiblah and the second one its outer and material function and importance.

The last hadiths and other hadiths with similar content (see Bukhari, ibid) explain certain deeds that distinguish the Muslims who accept the call of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) from the members of other religions and that are apparent signs of being members of the Islamic ummah; that the qiblah is mentioned separately though it is a principle and part of prayer shows the importance given to it. (Ibn Hajar, Fathul-Bari, III/52-53)

Each spiritual being basically has an individual nature. Unity and integration among the people who have the same spiritual tendencies becomes possible only through common material and spiritual manifestations. The emphasis made in the Quran that every ummah has a qiblah that it turns (al-Baqara, 2/148) shows that qiblah plays a very important role in the formation of a community having a common consciousness in the material and spiritual field. (see Elmalılı, Hak Dini, I/533)

Due to the central role owned by prayer and qiblah in terms of both spiritual and individual profundity and maturity, and common social identity, the members of the ummah of Islam are described as ahl as-salah or more commonly as ahl al-qiblah; all madhhabs and groups are regarded as Muslims with term ahl al-qiblah unless they exit the basic framework.

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